Black Mountain College Project   

Architecture Section



Black Mountain and Asheville

Blue Ridge Campus
Lake Eden Campus

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of Architects

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  Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer
Designs for a Lake Eden Campus, 1939

Photograph: Ezra Stoller © Esto.

Plan and additional images
MOMA Meeting

Black Mountain College Newsletter, 4, March1939

In December 1937, Walter Gropius, who had recently arrived in the United States from England, visited Black Mountain College where his Bauhaus colleagues Josef Albers and Xanti Schawinsky were teaching. At the time he was teaching architecture at Harvard University. In 1938 he was appointed Chairman of Harvard's Department of Architecture.

In January 1939, the college commissioned Gropius and his partner Marcel Breuer to design a complex of buildings for the Lake Eden property. This commission was the catalyst for an intensive series of community discussions at the college about the relationship between the its educational ideals and the the structures that would house the community. Carefully considered lists were made of the needs for an ideal community of 120 students engaged in an undergraduate liberal arts program.

At a time when most college's copied eclectic styles such as Colonial, Gothic or Renaissance to give a sense of credibility to their academic ideals, Black Mountain College decided that the buildings in appearance and in structure should be modern to reflect its progressive philosophy.

The complex which Gropius and Breuer designed would have been located around the south side of Lake Eden and would have extended over the water. On the opposite side of the lake faculty cottages and farm buildings were to be located.

Two influences from the Blue Ridge buildings were a central gathering space with a large fireplace and individual student studies. In addition there were dormitory rooms, classrooms and workshops, a dining hall and theater, and music facilities.

In the spring of 1939 the college began a campaign to raise the first $75,000 of the estimated total $500,000 required for construction. The model and plans were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and a meeting at which both Gropius and Josef Albers spoke was held there in January 1940. A second meeting was held in June.

By the summer of 1940 the college’s efforts to raise funds had been unsuccessful. Blue Ridge had notified the college that it had another tenant and that the college would have to vacate the buildings by June 1941. Faced with this deadline, it was clear that Black Mountain would either have to locate another site which it could rent until the Gropius-Breuer buildings could be constructed or move to the Lake Eden property in simpler buildings. The sense of urgency was heightened by the impending involvement of the United States in the European conflict and the anticipated restrictions on building materials for non-military construction. In the summer 1940, the college hired A. Lawrence Kocher, an American architect and proponent of modern architecture, to design simpler buildings which could be constructed by faculty and students.

Photograph: Ezra Stoller © Esto.

Had the Gropius-Breuer plans been constructed, they would have provided the college with a coherent and unified campus which would have reinforced and reflected the college’s ideals. They would have been one of the first major architectural projects by Gropius and Breuer in the United States. At the same time, preliminary money-raising efforts had revealed that donors were unwilling to make large contributions for a major architectural project unless the college could promise the probability, if not the promise, of longevity and stability. This would have required a restructuring of the college with a Board of Trustees and a more conventional academic curriculum. This ultimately would have negated the very ideals which the college hoped to reinforce through its architecture.        


The Black Mountain College Project gratefully acknowledges a grant from the Graham Foundation
for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts for a study of architecture at Black Mountain College.